“Of all the places in this beautiful city, why did this man choose the Lindt café to hold his siege?”
– Ryan Heffernan, who investigated “the Fake Shiek” as a producer for Channel Seven’s Today Tonight, writing in The Australian on December 19.
On Wednesday afternoon, I went to Martin Place to pay my respects to the dead hostages and join the thousands of other Australians doing the same. The queue was so long it was at first hard to find where it ended. It took forty minutes to get to the place where I could lay flowers.
I arrived at the Macquarie Street end of Martin Place and walked down between the heavily screened-off Lindt café and the Channel Seven studios across the square. Like Ryan Heffernan, I had been puzzled why the terrorist chose such an inoffensive location as that café for his murderous siege. But walking past the site on Wednesday, it was immediately clear. The huge, two-storey window of the television studio looks directly across and down on the café, giving a direct line of sight into its interior. Had the NSW Police not commandeered it as soon as the siege began, the studio would have been the perfect position to record everything that happened.
In other words, media coverage of the siege was central to the terrorist’s plans. In the last week of September, Australian Federal Police raided houses across the western suburbs of Sydney and arrested a man communicating with a former Sydney Muslim street preacher who had joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The preacher instructed his man to go to Martin Place, seize a random member of the public, kill him or her, and then drape the body in the black Islamic State flag. The killer should take an accomplice to video the whole incident and then post the footage on an international jihadi website.
That same month and for several prededing it, however, the would-be killer had been under surveillance by Australian intelligence forces and, before he could act on his instructions, the police swooped.
Man Haron Monis, who was not a target of those raids, must have decided then to take the place of the arrested jihadist. He converted from Shia to Sunni Islam and declared himself an adherent of the Islamic State. The major variation he made to the preacher’s September instructions was that, instead of taking an accomplice to video his killing and post it on the internet, Monis had the foresight to see that the Channel Seven studio could record his deeds on live, free-to-air television that would go around the world.
These were not the plans of a “madman” or a “nut job”, as a long line of legal aid lawyers (who have made a lot of money out of Monis) have pleaded. He was an extremist ideologue, but no more insane than any other Australian jihadist who has cast his fate this year with Islamic State. His actions were rationally planned well in advance. He chose his site after careful reconnaissance and he followed the IS preacher’s instructions dutifully, even down to demanding during the siege to be supplied with an authentic IS flag to replace the similar shahada flag he possessed himself.
Monis had also imbibed deeply the contemporary West’s ideology of victimhood. He is reported to have screamed after killing hostage Tori Johnson and just before police shot him dead: “Look what you have made me do!” In absolving himself of all personal responsibility, he was taking the same line as all those other aggrieved adherents of Western identity politics who think the real blame for their unhappiness lies with the purported phobias of imaginary oppressors.
If anything positive was demonstrated during these terrible events, it was the behavior of the NSW Police and the Sydney news media. Rather than use the occasion to respond with cowboy interventions, as a current-affairs TV program once did during a siege prompted by a domestic-violence issue, the Sydney media acted very responsibly. Instead of broadcasting messages they received from inside the café, they passed them to police headquarters, thereby denying the terrorist much of the drama he tried so hard to engineer. His inability to generate pro-Islamic publicity must have diluted to some extent the excitement Monis enjoyed during his siege. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott rightly said, the speed, discipline and professionalism displayed by the NSW police could not be faulted.
However, there was one serious blemish in the police operation that needs to be corrected the next time something like this occurs. NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione made it clear that he was following a tried and tested operations protocol that, in the past, has quickly shut down siege situations and saved the lives of hostages. This is the tactic of engaging in protracted negotiations with the hostage-taker, especially using relatives or religious advisers as negotiators, in the hope of calming him down and changing his mind. In domestic-violence situations, where the siege is largely the result of a surge in high emotions, this tactic remains the right way to go. But in dealing with Monis, who police presumed was a similarly emotionally-driven person, it turned out to be a fatal tactical flaw.
Instead, Monis should have been treated as a dedicated political and religious ideologue seeking martyrdom – no different to Mohammad Atta and the other terrorists of New York and Washington on 9/11. He should have been shot dead by a police marksman as soon as he was identified, and in the very early stages of the siege.
It is easy to be wise in hindsight about the problems caused by Scipione’s stated policy of being prepared to negotiate for as long as it might take, but in dealing with Islamic militants that old tactic is well and truly out of date. The technology of modern armaments is surely good enough for a marksman to shoot a terrorist in the head, even while he is using a hostage as a human shield. Photographs published in the press show there were several opportunities early in the siege when Monis’ head and shoulders were sufficiently exposed for that to be done successfully, without injury to the hostage concerned. I hope the inquiry commissioned by the Prime Minister considers this tactic seriously.
And I especially hope the inquiry recognizes how deceitful have been pleas of those money-grubbing lawyers acting for terrorists that their clients are not evil, just sick in the head, and thus deserving the sympathy and leniency of our judicial system.
The inquiry should recognise that we now have an enemy within that wants to cow us into submission and destroy our way of life – a way of life that was on display so movingly this week when Australians of all races and ethnicities came together to lay flowers in Martin Place.
Keith Windschuttle is the editor of Quadrant
UPDATE: A Quadrant reader with a background in ballistics writes:
Some people may try to tell you that police snipers can’t shoot through glass because of the unpredictability of the bullet deflections. IMHO this is not a genuine factor. I have no doubt special operations police practice this. There are several research papers that show even smaller pistol bullets penetrate plate glass with sufficient accuracy when the glass-to-target distance is not great. One paper found a 308 (a.k.a. 7.62 Nato-standard rifle calibre, weighing 150 grains) deflects only 2” over a 5 yard “glass to target” distance, fired at a 60 degree angle to the glass. A 2” deflection is still one dead terrorist.
The police at the Lindt siege had 338 Lapua rifles (identified as the ones with attachments at the end of the muzzle – “muzzle break” these devices reduce the felt recoil of the much more powerful calibre). These larger and more powerful bullets deflect even less. The main issue is to have a bullet strong enough not to break up on impact with the glass. Such bullets are made in Australia and are readily available in both 308 and 338.
If you have any interest in ballistics of these calibres, they are both on Wikipedia. The 338 Lapua shoots a bullet approx. twice the weight and energy of the 308/7.62 Nato and has Iraq/Afganistan confirmed sniper kills at distances greater than 1 km. As noted, I believe the 338 Lapua was on the scene in Sydney.